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Chapter 28 : Through the Dim Dawn
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Dawn dragged its golden fingertips across the rooftops of London, a haze of light and hope to stream through the windows of his hotel suite, but no warmth could find Scorpius Malfoy. He’d sat in his armchair and watched the lights of Diagon Alley and beyond wink out as night drew on, then stared at impenetrable darkness. Alone. In silence. But the knock on his door came not long after light crawled across the floorboards, and it was enough to jerk him from his reverie.
The door swung open, and he stood at the sight of Rose, shrouded in the shadows. ‘I didn’t think I’d wake you.’
‘I didn’t sleep,’ he admitted. ‘It wasn’t - I don’t -’
‘You should have rested,’ she said, and turned on the lights. Then she wasn’t a pale, haunted figure, but tall and determined, sweeping into the room with a bag slung over her shoulder, red hair a wild trail behind her. ‘We’ve got work to do.’
Scorpius blinked. ‘Work?’
‘Come on, Malfoy, you’re not that lazy, you know the word -’
‘But I don’t -’
‘Cassian.’ Rose tossed the bag onto the sofa, then turned. One hand on her hip, her eyes dragged over him. ‘You look terrible.’
He folded his arms across his chest. ‘As we covered, I’m dying.’
‘So am I.’
His heart tried to impersonate his Adam’s apple. ‘What?’
‘We all are. Aren’t we.’ Rose flipped her hair over her shoulder. ‘We all only have so much time. So let’s make the most of this time. That’s what you want, isn’t it? To use the time you’ve got to take chunks out of the Council, to make all of this worthwhile? We still haven’t finished chasing Cassian Malfoy’s leads.’
‘We’re assuming there are leads. We can’t even read the diary.’
‘Did you have a better idea?’
Scorpius blinked. ‘I’m only saying I don’t know where to start.’
‘No, you’re not.’ Rose padded over, chin tilted up a defiant inch. ‘You’re running and hiding. Letting your fear and pain overwhelm you. I refuse to let you wallow, because that’s not what you want.’
His expression creased. ‘There are so many things that aren’t what I want -’
‘So reject them.’
Her jaw tightened. ‘I refuse to accept that this is inevitable. That the Chalice must be destroyed, or that this must kill you -’
There was a flash of angry fear in his cold gut, then he’d seized her arm. ‘You will not delay a solution to Lethe just to save me -’
‘Depends on which “you” you mean,’ said Rose, meeting his gaze. ‘If you mean the research team? Sure, they’ll do what they have to. Even if it means sacrificing you to stop Lethe. I understand the reasons, and I understand your wishes. You’ve made that clear to Matt, I’ve made that clear to Matt.’
‘You’ve made it clear -’
‘If you think,’ she pressed on, with only the slightest quaver in her voice, ‘that I am going to stand by and accept this without even trying to find another way… if you think I will not do everything in my power to save you, then bloody hell, Scorpius, you never knew me at all, did you?’
He stared at her, eyes roaming over every inch of her face to find some hint of trepidation or madness. He found only fiery determination. ‘We - we looked, Rose -’
‘You didn’t have the Chalice when you looked for another way. It was all theoretical. Though speaking of theory, I’m getting Mum to set me up a meeting with Prometheus Thane to talk about his research. If you want to be there…’
‘Hang on.’ Scorpius lifted a hand. ‘If you’re researching the Chalice, if you’re trying to cheat death, why are you here about Cassian?’
She gave him another look, and only now could he see the bags under her eyes, hidden as they had been by her fire. ‘I can do two things, Scorpius. Even if I don’t accept that your time is this finite, even if I’m going to spend every spare hour working on cheating death, then I’m not walking away from this. Away from you.’
Another silence, and this time he had to fish for a whole new topic rather than answer that, answer the vigour in her voice. ‘Did you get any sleep?’
Rose huffed, and pulled her arm free. ‘As much as I ever do.’ She went back to her bag on the sofa. ‘I thought we could head to Malfoy Manor.’
He froze. ‘Why?’
‘Because your father was looking into Cassian Malfoy’s records and belongings and I don’t know how thorough you guys were. Because I have no idea how to decipher the diary, and maybe something in Cassian’s belongings will give us a clue. Because I don’t have any better ideas.’
‘Rigby’s shut the place up -’
‘We can open a door, Scorpius. I want to look in a box and maybe some old rooms; I don’t want to sleep there.’ She slung her bag over her shoulder, but her gaze softened when she looked back. ‘I know you don’t want to go. But I really don’t have any better ideas, I can’t get in without you, and I wouldn’t know where to look without you. Did you want to get breakfast first?’
He hadn’t even agreed to go, and yet she was assuming his cooperation. It would have been frustrating had he been capable of frustration. Or if being frustrated by Rose Weasley didn’t bring with it an old, familiar warmth he hadn’t let himself feel in a long, long time. Scorpius let out a deep breath. ‘I couldn’t eat anything.’
‘Then we’ll eat after. Maybe progress will help you unwind.’ She returned to his side, and finally there was hesitation when she extended her hand and spoke, voice lower and more gentle. ‘Apparate us?’
He stared at her hand for a moment, touch careful when he reached out, then drew his wand. Only circumstances this bizarre could make him bring Rose to Malfoy Manor. ‘Hold on, then.’
The corners of her lips curled up. ‘Like you can stop me.’
He couldn’t tell if his insides twisted from her or the Apparition, but soon they were stood in the cold, dewy morning light before the looming shadow of his family home, and Rose stopped being his biggest concern. Rigby had done his work well. There was not a window that had not been shuttered, and with the sun this low in the sky, Malfoy Manor squatted like an enormous gargoyle, grey and ugly and leering down at them.
He glanced at Rose. She stared at it, eyes wide with that gleam of curiosity he knew so well, and he knew she was thinking, analysing. He cleared his throat. ‘Let’s get moving.’
She blinked at his tone, but followed without argument when he crunched up the drive to the front door. He still had the keys, could still let himself into the shadowed halls of dust and memories, and was relieved to see Rigby had placed sheets over all of the paintings. ‘The crate should still be in the drawing room. There were a few boxes of Cassian’s old belongings in there, I just didn’t know what I was looking for.’
‘I still don’t,’ Rose conceded, but let him lead down corridors and through the door. The room was dark with the closed shutters, everything covered, but still he could see her soaking up the sights, especially the crate in the corner.
Despite his better judgement, he flicked his wand at the sconces and fireplace. ‘Everything’s in that crate, Rigby said,’ Scorpius explained. ‘Including a portrait of the man himself. Do you think it knows anything?’
‘A portrait needs a lot of interaction with its subject to learn anything, to properly emulate them. Otherwise it’s just cheap mannerisms. It might have picked up what people expect the portrait to be like. They’re mimics, really.’ Rose headed for the crate, while by instinct he slunk to a darkened corner and ignored the memories of echoed yelling. ‘I mean, you remember the issues with finding an appropriate portrait for communication in Hogwarts -’
‘I remember,’ he said shortly, and felt a flash of shame when her lips thinned and she turned to the crate. He’d been too blunt.
She didn’t say anything as she pulled off the lid, but then there was a rustle and the voice of Cassian Malfoy’s portrait. With his memories of the Otherworld dislodged by Legilimency, it sounded now like the spectre with which he’d conversed.
‘Finally. I was wondering if anyone was going to let me out of this turgid place -’
‘Maybe we will,’ said Rose, reaching in to pull out the portrait. She propped it against the crate. ‘If you can help us.’
Cassian Malfoy’s portrait rolled his eyes. ‘Didn’t anyone tell you? I’m not the helpful sort.’
‘We know there’s more in your head than Quidditch scores and girls.’
He looked her up and down. ‘Not much more. Maybe a fine account of the best bars across Europe. There’s not much point in living this life unless you’re going to have fun - but speaking of girls, what’s your name, darling?’
‘Rose,’ she said as Scorpius rolled his eyes. ‘Rose Weasley.’
‘A Weasley, hm?’ Cassian’s portrait looked over to Scorpius. ‘No wonder you’re skulking in the corner; I bet they hate you bringing a Weasley girl here! You sly dog -’
‘I’m a half-blood,’ Rose added, and he knew she was just being provocative.
Cassian laughed. ‘Is that why everywhere’s closed down? Did he bed a Weasley half-blood and the House of Malfoy fell to immediate ruin out of raw indignation? Are we going to see angry ancestor ghosts bearing down to rip you apart for having an independent thought?’
‘We’re really not here to talk about this,’ said Scorpius. ‘Do you know anything about the Magical Alliance?’
Cassian Malfoy’s portrait frowned. ‘Those interfering do-gooders? I heard they won their war.’
‘Did you work with them?’ Rose asked.
The portrait narrowed its eyes at her. ‘That sounds like a fine way to get killed, my dear Miss Weasley -’
‘He’s no use,’ Scorpius blurted. ‘Cover him up, he’s just a portrait of the cover identity…’
‘I am not -’
But she didn’t argue and tossed a drape over the portrait, which subsided into a low grumble. ‘Maybe there’s something in his stuff,’ she said, and rummaged in the crate.
‘Yeah,’ Scorpius rumbled, shoulders hunching. ‘Maybe.’
‘You don’t need to feel bad, Scorpius. It’s not like I didn’t know this about your family. And their opinions.’
‘You don’t - I wasn’t being a rebel -’
She looked over her shoulder and pushed back the cascade of red hair, brow furrowed. ‘I never thought we went through all that fuss so you could make a point -’
‘But I didn’t want you to see this place. To have to see this place, I mean. Ever.’
She turned around. ‘It’s just a house, Scorpius. A big, old, creepy house, but it’s just -’
‘I hate it,’ he blurted. ‘I hate it for me, because I come here and all I can think about is hearing my parents argue, listening to my father tell me I’m not good enough; all I can remember are the shitty times. It’s like someone’s taken all of my dark thoughts and dark memories and turned them into halls and rooms, a shrine of the failures of Scorpius Malfoy.’ He hadn’t meant to say any of this, but now the words were flowing. ‘And I hate it for my family, because it’s been built on the backs of our being shits to people, and it’s been built as a memorial to our bullshit ideals, bullshit attitudes, bullshit principles. The Malfoy family has a long and vaunted history of being on the wrong side of every argument, every war, because even if they won they were wrong to win, and I don’t want this place to mean anything to me. Because everything it means is bad.’
His chest was heaving, his blood rushing in his ears, and he’d thought simple problems like resenting his family were past him, because what did a dead man care about his heritage? But the old, bubbling feelings came up anyway, and so he had to fall into silence, fighting to get his breathing under control.
Rose padded over like he might bolt. ‘Cassian Malfoy wasn’t on the wrong side of his war.’
‘Sure. Except his family wrote off his achievements, ignored the principles he fought and died for. Told the world that he was nothing more than a flippant youth chasing indulgences who would never, ever grow up!’ He heard the echoes in his words only as they spilt past his lips, but she didn’t seem surprised.
He was still frozen in place when she reached for his hand with careful reverence. ‘We can find the truth about him. So whatever happens, both of you are remembered for who and what you really are. So the world sees the good the Malfoy family is capable of.’ Her fingers ran over his knuckles, the touch exploratory as much as it was reassuring.
He closed his eyes, hand tightening on hers by an instinct so deep in his bones he didn’t stand a chance of fighting it. ‘It’s not - I didn’t think I cared about my legacy. But staring death in the face makes how I’m remembered suddenly seem a lot more important.’
‘I am not,’ said Rose, with just the slightest quaver, ‘going to only have to remember you. I promise you, Scorpius -’
‘Don’t,’ he snapped, and pulled back, heart in his throat. ‘There’s - there’s one more thing I didn’t tell you, one last reason I didn’t come back, and it’s not about facts or truths or… it’s about me…’ She stayed put and now he’d started he had to continue. ‘Please don’t promise you’ll fix this. You don’t know if you can. Maybe you can find another way - I don’t know, I didn’t think there was one, I don’t think there is one, but…’
‘But you refuse to hope?’ Rose frowned.
‘Hope - hope -’ The word tried to choke him. ‘I’m going to have to die, Rose. I’m going to have to make sure I die, because that’s what I have to do, that’s the decent thing to do, and I am a monster if I let others keep suffering. And I - and I…’ His voice trailed off, and Scorpius tore away, turning to the shuttered window so he didn’t have to look at her, because the mere sight of her made this harder. ‘And it’s easier to do that if I stay a dead man.’
A long silence met his words, and he knew he needed to explain more, but he couldn’t find the words. Her footsteps were soft as she approached, but she didn’t reach for him yet, and he didn’t know how near she was. ‘So you stayed away because it was easier for you?’
There was no accusation in her voice, but still he bowed his head, hunched in his shoulders. ‘Fighting with Thane, doing horrible things with Thane - it didn’t matter. I was going to die, again. It was just - a reprieve. A cheat. A fluke. It wouldn’t last, so why… so why…’ Scorpius swallowed hard. ‘Why remind myself of everything I want to live for? Why try to make a life I won’t want to leave?’ He felt her hand on his arm and that sent a jolt through him. He jerked away and turned to her, eyes blazing. ‘How the hell could I come back to you and then leave you?’
She stared at him before a flash of old determination entered her gaze. ‘I told myself I would go through the pain of losing you a thousand times over, if I could get one more day, one more second with you -’
‘Maybe you’d take that deal,’ said Scorpius, stepping forward, head fizzing with her presence and fire in every way he wished it wouldn’t. ‘But I’m the one who has to then walk away, die. I’ve tried dying. It was pretty shit. If I have to go again, I want to go as a man embracing the sacrifice, not a man clutching the woman he loves saying, “Please, no, I don’t want to go!”’
That hit her like slap. ‘Scorpius…’
‘I have lied to you for your own good and for myself,’ he admitted. ‘Because this was hard enough when you were just a memory in my mind and in my heart and in my bones, but now you’re in front of me and all we’re doing is talking, but if someone told me I had to walk away from you again, I’d tell them to go to hell.’
Rose drew a deep breath. ‘Then tell them that. Don’t give up, Scorpius; there are things we can do, measures we can take, research we can do, and then you don’t have to walk away!’
‘And what if you’re wrong?’
She paused. ‘Then it hurts.’
‘Hurts. That’s an amazing -’
‘And I would rather try. I would rather put everything I have into the slightest chance, I would rather dash myself against these rocks and break myself upon this hope, than stand somewhere safe and secure and watch you die.’ She stepped forwards, defiant again, and he had to tilt his head down to look her in the eye and she was close, too close.
‘We - we came here to look at Cassian Malfoy’s things,’ he blurted, and strode to the crate, pulling the journal out of his jacket.
She was silent until he was rummaging in the files his father had gathered, and when she spoke it sounded like her voice was coming from a long way away. ‘Scorpius…’
‘That can be your choice,’ he said, and tried to fight the quaver in his throat. ‘But I think I’ve shown, time and again, especially with this, that I’m a coward. Because I could have lied to you on the Naglfar, pretended to be a trick, but I was too pleased to see you, to see Albus, and I’m a coward. Because, having proved I was me, I still couldn’t bring myself to tell you the whole truth, because I’m a coward. And now, with all before us, I could fight, and I won’t stop you doing what you’re doing, but I won’t believe in it. Because I’m a coward.’
‘You are not a coward,’ Rose snapped in that voice she always used when he tore himself down. ‘You’re one of the stupidest, bravest men I’ve ever met, but you are also your own worst enemy. And when you are your worst enemy, you destroy your value and destroy your hope, and I don’t think it’s possible to be brave without some glimmer of hope!’
He didn’t look at her as she joined him by the crate, just set the journal on the side as he pulled out a small wooden box. ‘I need a bit more than being told to have hope.’
‘And I’ll give you more,’ Rose snapped. ‘Whatever it takes, I will prove to you that this can be done, and I will do this. But you have to be prepared to listen to me.’
‘So far, you’ve given me nothing but blind conviction,’ he retorted, and flipped the box open. ‘So how about we get back to chasing down the dead ends of the secret life of Cassian Malfoy?’
‘They aren’t dead ends,’ she said, and a part of him hated how winding her up like this, settling into discourse that was more bicker than conversation, was comfortable and warm. She opened the journal, leafed through the pages of nonsense. ‘We’ve barely looked.’
‘I’m looking,’ he said, peering into the box, ‘and this looks like his toiletries, stored for eighty years. Riveting! Maybe the secret is in Cassian’s shaving kit?’ He pulled out a razor, peered at it, then tossed it back. ‘Or his little cuff link collection? Nice gemstones. Oh, or his secret stash of drugs.’
Scorpius wasn’t sure what the small leather pouch was, but facetious irritation and the desire to argue rather than confront real problems made him theatrical. It was thus against his better judgement that he opened the pouch and investigated with a big sniff.
Dust - of some sort - shot up his nose, filled his nostrils and his head, and he dropped the pouch to let out an almighty sneeze.
Rose coughed. ‘Lovely; yes, let’s snort what at best are herbs a century old…’
But her voice trailed off, and when he wiped his eyes and nose, he found her staring at the open pages of the journal. He hadn’t sneezed on it - not much. But that dust had gone everywhere, and a little of it had sprayed across the pages of incomprehensible babble they had failed at deciphering.
Because it seemed like it was babble, lines and lines without meaning or sense. And in between those lines, gleaming now in a purple ink where the dust had fallen, were new words. English words.
Rose let out a deep breath. ‘Give me the pouch,’ she said in a hushed voice, and he passed it over. She took a pinch, sprinkled it over the page, and in between every line of the gibberish there was a second line that revealed itself and was most certainly not gibberish.
‘Cass Malfoy,’ Scorpius breathed. ‘You sneaky little bastard.’
She glanced over, smile curling back into her pleased, successful grin, and he couldn’t help but return it at the surge of victory and just at the sight of her so pleased. ‘Feeling any hope yet?’
The journal wasn’t an answer yet, or even a clue. They would have to go through lines and lines of records to find something, anything, which might lead to wherever the spirit of Cassian Malfoy rested with apparently more knowledge that could help them defeat Joachim Raskoph. And that might do nothing for his survival.
But it was something, and even through the aching pain of his words, the bleak blanket this house of his ancestors cast over him, Scorpius Malfoy couldn’t help but look at the book, look at Rose Weasley’s smiling face, and feel a dash of something light inside.
His hands were empty, and that felt wrong. A gesture was needed, surely; something more than himself and his mumbled words. But a physical peace offering felt so superficial, and so Albus had to accept that he could not possibly bring enough as he hammered on the door to Eva’s flat.
There was a long pause before she answered, and when the door swung open he was greeted with a determinedly plain expression. ‘Albus.’
He wrung his hands together. ‘We need to talk.’
She turned away. ‘We really don’t.’
‘Last night was -’ He had to hurry inside to follow her if he didn’t want to shout across a room. ‘I was wrong. And I’m sorry.’
‘Thank you. But we don’t need to talk about this.’ Eva went to the coffee table, voice completely without inflection, and picked up a manilla folder. ‘We need to talk to a man named Amadeus Candlestone; he works in the Minister’s office and either he screwed up checking after the buyouts or he let it happen. Either way, he should know more of the financial details used by Draco Malfoy to -’
Albus braced himself before he interrupted. ‘Are we going to talk?’
She looked over the folder at him, impassive. ‘We are talking. I’m briefing you.’
‘I mean about -’
‘I’ve been let out of prison to help the Auror Office hunt down Draco Malfoy. You’ve been hired as an independent contractor to work with me for that purpose. We have a job to do.’
‘You’re just going to pretend like -’
‘I am stopping all pretence.’ There was only the lightest pressure to her voice, but on her flat expression it was like a wave of emotion. ‘I am here because of my skills and my knowledge. Because my track record now implies I will cooperate with the proper authorities. You are here because Scorpius Malfoy asked you to be, and because of your moral compass, such as it is these days.’
Albus stopped. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
She tossed down the folder, jaw tight. ‘It means that Al and Lisa might have had something once, but not only am I not Lisa Delacroix, you’re not that same Al any more either.’
He took a step forward. ‘I am trying -’
‘No. The world has just done what it does; it makes you forget that other people are people.’
She wasn’t looking at him, and he stomped over to the coffee table. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘It’s not a criticism. It’s normality. But this wouldn’t have happened two and a half years ago.’
‘Of course it wouldn’t, but things are different -’
‘Exactly.’ Now she lifted her gaze, dark and guarded and yet with a glint of accusation. ‘Most people put their own needs first. Sometimes, all they need of someone else is for them to go away. That’s real cruelty. I didn’t kill people because I hated them, I killed people because I needed them to not be a problem.’
‘You’ve changed -’
‘So have you,’ she snapped, feeling cracking through every inch of reserve, but her eyes immediately dropped and she took a step back. ‘Because when I met you, you were someone who would always think of others, of their needs. You saw me as a person and you believed there was something good in me even if I couldn’t believe that, and you kept that up - that belief, that consideration, even when it was inconvenient.’ Eva turned away, and from the tension in her shoulders he wondered if her expression would betray more than it ever had. But she kept it hidden, stalking to the window. ‘And then last night, you saw me as an escape, and nothing more. I’m not angry. The world just did to you what it does to everyone.’
Albus frowned. ‘Bullshit, you’re not angry. You’re -’ Realisation stabbed him in the gut. ‘You thought I was the guy who doesn’t hurt you, doesn’t use you like you’ve been used.’
‘And then Scorpius died, and all you see is your own pain. It’s normal. It’s how the world works.’ She shook her head, and when she glanced over her shoulder, the mask was back. ‘So we’ll get the job done.’
His shoulders dropped, the impassive stillness more of a blow than the hurt. ‘I… tried to make it better this time,’ he said in a low, hoarse voice. ‘I went to Rose, I didn’t want to let her down again…’ But only after I’d let you down.
Eva looked away. ‘Good,’ she said, and it was worse that it sounded like she meant it.
‘I never understood, two years ago, what I was doing to you. I thought you just needed someone to listen to you and encourage you, I didn’t -’ He almost said that it wasn’t fair. He hadn’t known he was rebuilding her. But then he remembered what it had felt like to hope without reservation, and he knew he would have only tried harder if he’d known. Maybe he didn’t sign up to be her moral architect, but he would have done so in a heartbeat if he’d been asked. Because that was the man he’d been.
Now he was the man who let others get hurt for his own safety, who hid from harm, and who’d killed because he’d accepted the world was too inconvenient, at times, for mercy.
‘I know,’ Eva said, voice dropping, and she still didn’t look back. ‘And I’m grateful.’
You’re grateful to who I used to be. You drew hope from who I used to be. And now I’ve let you down.
He swallowed hard. ‘We’ll find this Candlestone -’
‘I’ll do it,’ said Eva flatly. ‘It’ll be easier than the son of Harry Potter coming up to talk to him. If it doesn’t work, then you can try.’ She turned back to him at last, impassive. ‘I will send you word when I have an update. Good evening.’
The dismissal made him take a step back without thinking, and when he thought, it wasn’t much better - so he just gave an awkward nod and turned, shoulders tight, to stalk to the door, out of the run-down block on Diagon Alley, and into the gathering dusk of dying autumn.
He could feel it in his gut, a tight coil of rope long enough to hang himself with, the desire to run. Run and hide, go somewhere he didn’t have to face the accusing eyes or the people he’d let down, the people who’d once believed in him. The people who now couldn’t look at him the same way, who had to treat him with cautious reserve for their own safety, or outright distrust because they never wanted him close. His father, treating the world like a threat to his loved ones. His mother, treating the family’s problems as a balancing act. His brother, so guardedly resentful; Rose, learning to hope again and leaving him far behind because he would just bring her down. Eva, now realising he was no longer the man who’d once saved her. All of them, their belief shattered, all of them…
Albus lifted his gaze to the twinkling lights of the winding road of Diagon Alley, and broke into a run.
But he did not have far to go before he was hammering on another door, with another long wait as someone checked it was safe to let him in, and then he had another worried, guarded expression greeting him.
He drew a deep breath. ‘When I lost you, I became nothing. I don’t want to lose you again, and I don’t want to become nothing again. So I’m sorry for pelting off. And I forgive you for hiding this, and I forgive you for anything you have done -’
Scorpius’ expression had been softening, but at this he stepped back into the suite like he’d been stung. ‘You don’t know what I did -’
‘I’m not an idiot. You worked with Prometheus Thane. And you did what you thought you had to, which nobody else could do, because that’s the world we live in.’ Albus ran a hand through his hair, and his breath shuddered as he drew it. ‘Can’t we be better than the world? Both of us?’
Scorpius jerked, chin raising a half-inch. ‘Al, you’ve always been better -’
‘I bloody haven’t. Not while you were gone. Not just now. You think I don’t understand? I do. I understand the helplessness, I understand the desolation, and then I look at you, and I see you in that darkness, and I think -’ He swallowed hard. ‘You’re my best mate. And whatever happens, I’m here. Because you have always, always been stronger than you know, and if I have to remind you of that every single day to make sure we get through this, I will bloody do that.’
He advanced to curl his hands in Scorpius’ shirt, grip iron-tight. ‘If we fail, we fail, but that’s together, you hear me? Win or lose, I’ll find your father and we’ll sort these secrets, but I have your back and there’s nowhere I’d rather be. But you…’ His throat clenched, exhaustion tying his words in knots. ‘I always believed in you. But you - you never gave up faith in me, did you?’
He’d almost not dared utter the question, but Scorpius tensed the moment the words were past his lips, and he clasped Albus’ arms, bright gaze going hard. ‘Never. Merlin, Al, you’ve been through hell but you don’t get to give up. I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t for you. I’d probably be selling out with my prick of a father - you have always not just seen the best in me, the best in the world, but you’ve fought for that best. I’m sorry I lied to you, but I didn’t want to let you down.’
‘Let me down - I stopped being that person, I broke that faith…’ Albus’ voice collapsed, and all he could do was yank Scorpius into a tight embrace. ‘We’re both stupid bastards, aren’t we.’
‘We really are,’ came Scorpius’ muffled voice, not without a quaver. Albus could feel the tension in his best friend’s shoulders, tension at the world rather than these admissions, because in the hug it started to ebb away. He didn’t know if he’d come for absolution, or comfort, or to make right the wrong of pushing Scorpius away. Maybe all three. Amends were needed, mistakes needed rectifying.
But the man he’d once been - the man he’d deemed naive, weak, who needed to change with the world - wouldn’t have made those screw ups. He knew it was that man Scorpius spoke to, that man Eva had seen him as before the previous night, that man Rose had tried to bring out in their last conversation. Albus wondered if that man had gone even further away, never to return, or if he’d never left and was just somewhere around the corner.
He clapped Scorpius on the back and closed his eyes. ‘You know I love you, right, mate?’
It felt stupid to say, if necessary, but Scorpius just tightened the hug and gave a raw chuckle. ‘Yeah, you great lug. Of course I know, I’m not a bloody idiot.’ He cleared his throat. ‘…love you too.’
Then they pulled back, because there really wasn’t much else to say and do after that, except for Scorpius to nod to the Floo and go, ‘You eaten? Room service isn’t bad,’ like they hadn’t just clutched at each other like flotsam in a storm. Except - even if Albus’ response was a grunt and a one-shouldered shrug, like this was alright, he supposed - neither one of them could stop beaming like idiots.